While the SEC West—and the state of Mississippi, in particular—has become the talk of the college football world over the last few days, there's a big game brewing back east that's littered with division title implications, defensive question marks and uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Georgia will travel to Columbia to take on the Missouri Tigers at noon ET on Saturday morning in a game that will define the landscape of the SEC East moving forward.
A big piece of the puzzle for the Bulldogs is quarterback Hutson Mason, who hasn't exactly picked up where record-setting signal-caller Aaron Murray left off.
Mason is averaging just 137.4 yards per game through the air—the worst mark among SEC quarterbacks who have started every game this season. His 6.8 yards per attempt are 11th in the conference among qualifying quarterbacks.
Redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey saw time last week against Vanderbilt in times other than mop-up duty, completing two of four passes for 31 yards.
According to Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph, head coach Mark Richt suggests this is a trend that will continue this week for the Bulldogs:
It better only be a situational rotation, because if Richt wants his team to win the East, it's going to do it with Mason running the ship and he needs to build some confidence.
When you have running back Todd Gurley to rely on, all the quarterback needs to do is be a caretaker. Through the first month-plus of the season, though, it seemed like Georgia was calling pass plays outside the hashmarks rather than in the middle of the field, where Mason has been more comfortable.
Playing "musical quarterbacks' won't make the problem better, it will only make it worse.
Mason needs confidence. Confidence can be gained this week in, as Richt told Logan Booker of Bulldawg Illustrated:
Mason needs to get comfortable, and the way to make him comfortable is to call plays to his strengths and let him play. He's already looking over his shoulder, and that's the last place the coaching staff should want him to be looking.
Despite the woes in the passing game, things are looking up for the Bulldogs in some departments.
Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (ACL, leg) played for the first time in more than a year last week and fellow receiver Justin Scott-Wesley (ACL) was on the brink of playing last week. According to Ethan Burch of Morris News Service, his absence against the Commodores surprised Richt.
Missouri isn't the team against which Georgia should rotate quarterbacks.
Shane Ray and Markus Golden—who rank first and third, respectively, in sacks per game in the SEC—get off the edge in a hurry. Even if Mason doesn't instill a ton of confidence with the staff making quick decisions, does playing a redshirt freshman on the road in a big game change that?
Georgia needs this game and its quarterback to be a big part of it. If he's not, hopes of its third SEC East title in four years will likely disappear.
Now's not the time to get cute.
Barrett Sallee is the Lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Following his latest standout showing—a 338-yard, five-touchdown outing in Ohio State's 52-24 win over Maryland on Saturday—J.T. Barrett gave some credit to his nighttime medicine.
"The thing I do now is I take the Sleepytime Tea," Barrett said. "I don’t want to be up just sitting with my thoughts at night."
But while Barrett may now be sleeping better following a shaky start to the 2014 season, the rest of the country is beginning to wake up when it comes to the Buckeyes' redshirt freshman quarterback.
Heisman Trophy odds can't be found for Barrett on online gambling sites—at least not yet—but that hasn't stopped the Wichita Falls, Texas, native's name from entering the conversation for college football's most prestigious award. On its latest watch list, reputed website HeismanPundit.com ranked Barrett seventh in a "long view of the race that takes into account schedule and statistical trends."
As Heisman Pundit creator and publisher Chris Huston explained to Bleacher Report, the inclusion of Barrett is a result of more than just what he's already accomplished in his freshman season. Having accumulated 1,354 passing yards, 276 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns through Ohio State's first five games, Barrett is on pace for the best statistical season ever by a Buckeyes quarterback—one which would compare favorably to recent Heisman signal-callers.
“The last six Heisman-winning quarterbacks have averaged 4,292 yards of total offense and 47 combined touchdowns and a 181.3 passer rating," Huston said. "If you’re gonna win the Heisman in this day and age if you’re a quarterback, you pretty much need to have 4,000 yards of total offense and 40 touchdowns. That’s pretty much been the standard since Tim Tebow won the Heisman."
Assuming Ohio State advances to the Big Ten Championship Game and plays 13 contests before the Dec. 13 Heisman presentation in New York City, Barrett's current pace extrapolates to totals of 4,237 yards of offense (3,520 passing yards, 717 rushing yards) and 49 total touchdowns. His passer rating of 186.4 also meets the quarterback criteria set forth by Huston.
Those totals would eclipse what Jameis Winston accomplished in his Heisman-winning campaign a year ago, when the Florida State quarterback totaled 4,013 yards (3,820 passing, 193 rushing) and totaled 42 touchdowns in 13 games. They would be comparable to Robert Griffin III's 4,642 total yards and 45 touchdowns in 2011, Cam Newton's 3,998 total yards and 49 touchdowns in 2010, Sam Bradford's 4,493 total yards and 53 touchdowns in 2008 and Tim Tebow's 4,181 total yards and 55 touchdowns in 12 games in 2007.
(If the Buckeyes only take part in 12 games, Barrett's currently on track to tally 3,911 total yards—3,249 passing, 662 rushing—and 45 total touchdowns.)
But it's not just Barrett's potentially impressive stat line that could work in his favor when it comes to a potential Heisman run. According to Huston, playing for Ohio State will only help Barrett's cause, as voters are more apt to vote for candidates who play for big-name schools.
"Ohio State is a traditional Heisman power," Huston said. "If you have this kind of season for Ohio State and Ohio State goes 12-1, this is better than if you put up the same numbers for a 12-1 team at Baylor, for example, or Mississippi State.
“So there’s the built-in advantage of playing for a Heisman power, plus the production that he’s on-pace for. Now the question is, will he continue the pace?"
The Buckeyes' schedule would suggest so, with games against Rutgers and Illinois sandwiching a road contest against a largely unproven Penn State team on Oct. 25. While the Nittany Lions rank ninth in the nation in total defense, the Scarlet Knights rank 69th and the Fighting Illini rank 112th, with the latter surrendering an average of 502.8 yards per game.
Currently at 4-1 on the year, Ohio State again appears to be on a collision course for a Nov. 8 showdown with eighth-ranked Michigan State. And not only will that game likely decide this season's Big Ten East Division champion, it could also very well serve as a prime-time platform for Barrett's Heisman hopes, should he make the most of the Buckeyes' upcoming slate.
"If he keeps this pace—say against Rutgers, Penn State and Illinois he throws for a combined 11 touchdowns and then runs for three touchdowns as well—you’re looking at a lot of production," Huston noted. "Then people are going to start to notice. And then he’s going to have that big set up game at Michigan State where it’s basically going to be for the division title and Michigan State has a well-respected defense.
"If he can do that same kind of stuff against Michigan State, then he will be seen as a legitimate candidate at that point."
That's a lot of "ifs," especially when you take into consideration that the Spartans currently rank 11th in the nation in total defense and have given up an average of 20.6 points per game through their first five contests. But given who Ohio State has coming up between now and then, it appears to be almost likely that a trip to New York City will be on the line for Barrett in his matchup with MSU.
Of course, Barrett won't be the only person in control of his Heisman destiny.
For a player who entered 2014 as an unknown until Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury two weeks prior to the start of the season, Barrett hardly carries the same name recognition as Heisman hopefuls such as Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. In fact, Huston estimates that if it were Miller who had accomplished what Barrett already has this season, he would have placed him third on his most recent watch list, based on the two-time Big Ten MVP's status as an established star.
That's not to say that Barrett won't be able to overcome his status as a relative unknown in college football, as both Winston and Johnny Manziel did as much in their respective Heisman Trophy-winning seasons. But it's worth noting that the two redshirt freshmen were helped by weaker fields in their Heisman races, something that Barrett would also need to benefit from in order to win the trophy.
"If you look at Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, they had incredible seasons as redshirt freshmen, but they had to have a lot of things happen," Huston said. "For Barrett to do it, if he has the kind of year that he’s on pace to have, he’s going to still need some of these other guys who are established in front of him to falter a little bit.”
So where do Barrett's Heisman odds currently stand?
With more than two months left until the award is actually handed out, perhaps it's too early to tell. But a lot will be decided in the Buckeyes' next four games—especially that fourth one—as Barrett may need to stock up on his Sleepytime Tea for a potential trip to city that never sleeps this December.
"I don’t expect him to win. I still think it’s going to be very hard for him to get to New York," Huston explained. "At the end of Michigan State, if he has 30 touchdown passes—which he’s on pace to have— then people are going to be like, ‘Well here’s a guy who’s got four games to go with already 30 touchdown passes.' People are going to start to realize what an incredible season it is and then that will start to snowball.
"Him being a freshman makes it hard to predict. But, if you’re looking out there for somebody who’s a redshirt freshman who has a chance to win, that’s definitely Barrett.”
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The 2015 recruiting class is filled with incredibly talented players. Among them is 4-star wide receiver Darius Slayton. Darius takes time to sit down with Bleacher Report and discuss his game as well as the first time he met Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn.
What school do you think Slayton should attend?
Watch the video and let us know!
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com